The emergence of competing modules in bilingualism

Trends Cogn Sci. 2005 May;9(5):220-5. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2005.03.003.


How does the brain manage to store and process multiple languages without encountering massive interference and transfer? Unless we believe that bilinguals live in two totally unconnected cognitive worlds, we would expect far more transfer than actually occurs. However, imaging and lesion studies have not provided consistent evidence for the strict neuronal separation predicted by the theory of modularity. We suggest that emergentist theory offers a promising alternative. It emphasizes the competitive interplay between multiple languages during childhood and by focusing on the dual action of competition and entrenchment, avoids the need to invoke a critical period to account for age of acquisition effects in second-language learning. This view instantiates the motto formulated by Elizabeth Bates that 'modules are made, not born.'

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Language Development*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Multilingualism*
  • Transfer, Psychology
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*